Rep. Anthony Brown told a nearly standing-room-only audience Thursday at the University of Maryland in College Park he will sponsor legislation for colleges to target hate crimes.
The Maryland Democrat, leading a discussion at the school on race, politics and reconciliation, said one recommendation would require college officials to report any form of speech from left- and right-wing groups that arouses violence.
“The middle is where America is,” he said. “Passing a law won’t change the systemic problem, but it will give universities and colleges tools and incentives to push back.”
Brown, who represents Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, may introduce the proposed legislation next week when Congress returns from recess, saying officials must clearly define what’s acceptable language.
He said if colleges don’t follow specific guidelines to report hate crimes to local law enforcement agencies, then federal money would be withheld. However, he said some colleges and universities in need of additional resources could receive grants to implement measures against hate speech.
Brown’s remarks came in the wake of last month’s deadly, racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer, 32, and just four months after someone chalked the words “Deport DREAMers” on a U.Md. campus sidewalk in support of deporting undocumented immigrants who came to the country as minors.
And on May 20, Richard Collins III, a 23-year-old black Bowie State University student, was fatally stabbed on the College Park campus while visiting friends. His accused killer, Sean Christopher Urbanski, a white University of Maryland student, currently remains in jail.
“I think you’d have to be purposely obtuse not to see a direct correlation between the rise of Donald Trump the candidate to Oval Office and the emboldening of these perpetrators across the country, both on and off campus,” he said. “Why do I say it? The Trump administration … has said nothing about the hate-fueled killing of Richard Collins and repeatedly blamed both sides for the murder of Heather Heyer.
“Even as I take issue with the president’s lack of moral leadership, I remain hopeful that working together we can continue to heal and move beyond our old, racial wounds,” Brown added. “If we stop people from learning hate, then we will close the open wounds we see today.”
Sharah Eshera, a Muslim student at Maryland, said a man received asked a woman Eshera was with why she wears a hijab, a head covering worn by Muslin women. After she briefly explained, the man followed her and others from the student union to ask more questions.
When asked after Thursday’s hour-plus discussion if she feels safe on campus, she said, “No.”
“I don’t think anything will come from these types of events,” said Eshera, a Columbia, Maryland, senior studying math and philosophy. “It’ll come from student organizing. We’re not just making noise for the sake of making noise. I hope they will take us more seriously this year.”
University of Maryland President Wallace Loh said punishing those who write words such as “deport” isn’t necessary and that the school plans to assess its policies regarding acts of free speech. He also said more campus dialogues are scheduled this school year, including a visit in October from longtime Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia).
“Does that mean I [believe] all people who spew hate should go to prison? I don’t know, but those are the issues as a country we have to talk about,” Loh said after the dialogue. “There is a very big difference … to someone who writes ‘deport’ and a very, deep personal insult to someone burning a cross. This conversation is just the beginning.”